Creatures of Empire: How Domestic Animals Transformed Early America
Virginia DeJohn Anderson
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When we think of the key figures of early American history, we think of explorers, or pilgrims, or Native Americans--not cattle, or goats, or swine. But as Virginia DeJohn Anderson reveals in this brilliantly original account of colonists in New England and the Chesapeake region, livestock played a vitally important role in the settling of the New World.
Livestock, Anderson writes, were a central factor in the cultural clash between colonists and Indians as well as a driving force in the expansion west. By bringing livestock across the Atlantic, colonists believed that they provided the means to realize America's potential. It was thought that if the Native Americans learned to keep livestock as well, they would be that much closer to assimilating the colonists' culture, especially their Christian faith. But colonists failed to anticipate the problems that would arise as Indians began encountering free-ranging livestock at almost every turn, often trespassing in their cornfields. Moreover, when growing populations and an expansive style of husbandry required far more space than they had expected, colonists could see no alternative but to appropriate Indian land. This created tensions that reached the boiling point with King Philip's War and Bacon's Rebellion. And it established a pattern that would repeat time and again over the next two centuries.
A stunning account that presents our history in a truly new light, Creatures of Empire restores a vital element of our past, illuminating one of the great forces of colonization and the expansion westward.
resistance to sharing grazing rights to the island’s limited supply of pasture.15 Although Indians may have preferred to continue sharing waste land, the colonists’ growing insistence on exclusive control inspired native peoples to follow suit. Indians in Plymouth Colony who exchanged land among themselves occasionally drew up English-style deeds specifying that the right to graze “any kind of cattle” belonged solely to the purchaser. Such provisos may indicate increasing friction among Indians
Shore, the south side of the James River, the head of Chesapeake Bay itself, and the “frontier” of Baltimore county likewise felt the sting of Indian raids.49 The recent movement of English settlers into all of these places introduced new groups of Indians to troublesome livestock, sparking similar acts of retaliation. In some cases, native refugees from areas colonized earlier found to their dismay that the plague of cattle and swine had caught up with them, provoking them to strike out in anger
Only in a profoundly disordered world would a glimpse of trampled earth or perhaps just heaps of manure provide such solace to a woman who until then had taken cattle for granted all of her life.66 The creatures that reminded Rowlandson of her English identity aroused intense hatred in many Indians because of that very association. Native combatants accompanied physical attacks with verbal taunts impugning English claims that possession of animal property helped to assure cultural dominance.
goal was to have grazing animals such as cattle, horses, and sheep born in the late winter or early spring so that the young could be turned into fresh green pastures soon after weaning. To ensure that newborn calves would appear around February, farmers only allowed bulls near cows in late spring. Horses and sheep, which retain the seasonal breeding cycles inherited from wild ancestors, required less monitoring. Supervising the reproduction of any kind of livestock was greatly facilitated by
around them. Because how people think about animals influences how they interact with them, the book begins with a pair of chapters that explore Indian and English approaches to nonhuman creatures. The comparison reveals that, although the two ways of thinking were not utterly distinct, the differences between them were significant enough to complicate the myriad encounters between Indians and colonists that involved animals. Native understandings of animals fit into a larger set of conceptions